Life in the Long Tail

Not to belabor the point, but WSJ had an interesting story about life in the “long tail” (Famous, Online) in describing several small bands and their use of the Internet to generate and tap a following without the traditional scaffolding provided by the established record labels. In my last post on this, I mentioned the risk to established producers of low-cost and lower-expectation competitors:

For established companies, selling one thing is bad business. For the guy producing an album in his bedroom, selling one thing is good business. And soon, according to the Long Tail, big companies will be competing with millions of these smaller producers, who would each be quite happy with an extremely infinitesimal piece of the pie.

Elizabeth Holmes writes about several such “amateur bands” as the duo, The Scene Aesthetic, who had “2.3 million visitors and more than 124,000 ‘friends'” on MySpace. Here are some interesting numbers describing their career…

  • Using an amateur booking agent to book a national tour
  • Promoting their tour on MySpace
  • Booking every night in July and August (at pizza parlors and teen centers)
  • Gettting up to 200 people a night
  • Making about $600/gig (plus t-shirt sales)
  • Sleeping on fan floors when they can’t afford hotel rooms

Granted, this is not living large, but then again, there’s an authenticity to it that reminds me of the Beatles’ early days in Liverpool and Hamburg. Not that The Scene Aesthetic is the next Beatles, but that such a life can be pretty good when your cash needs and aspirations are aligned.

Is this the Future?

Will big companies, like big record labels, increasingly face competition from many small firms who have low capital requirements and less aspirations for corporate expansion? Yes. But will it cause a problem? Only for those companies who refuse to acquire or in other ways partner with these smaller firms. Though even these companies will find partnering less profitable than it once was–as they’re buying proven commodities.

That’s because what the long tail provides is a fertile space for small bands, brands, and business to establish a niche and grow to the point of proving they found an unaddressed need. No corporate fat-cat will be able to pretend their house brands are better simply because they control the only access to the market.

The Scene Aesthetic is not alone–there are thousands of such bands living online, hosting their own pages, posting their own songs promoting their own gigs for little or no cost. And this long tail has its own long tail: PureVolume, a song-posting site, says of the 300,000 bands posting songs, only 2% have more than 5,000 plays.

The long tail is a work-around for the relatively inefficient filter that is BigCo’s ability to spot and acquire hot new businesses. Eventually, good bands will rise to the surface, unaided by talent scouts and undeniably desired by fans, the same way local bands like the Beatles and the Stones and so many others emerged in the late 1950s playing local clubs (before producers started replicating the formula).

AS this model increasingly applies to other markets, we may be facing a potentially great Cambrian experiment in business evolution.

         

One thought on “Life in the Long Tail

  1. Hi Andrew,
    Great article on the long tail. I especially liked your point about big companies needing to morph and establish relationships with smaller firms. Change or die.
    You may be interested in a Cambrian experiment we are performing on a relatively new term called ‘crowdsourcing’.
    http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.06/crowds.html
    We take peoples software ideas, and commercialize them at fierce speed. What’s different is we actually open the develop of the products up to the crowd (or our community).
    If you are interested, check us out at:
    http://www.cambrianhouse.com/how-it-works/
    Great article (love the long tail) – all the best.
    JR

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